Friday, December 21, 2012

The Courage to do Nothing

Yesterday, in my Bowen Family Systems class we had a rather lengthy discussion about anxiety, leadership, and vision. 

The anxiety portion was spent focusing on two school shootings: Columbine and Sandy Hook.  My teacher marveled at the similarities between the family genograms of each of the shooters.  They were remarkably similar.  My teacher added that he had expected something along the lines of what had happened at Sandy Hook citing "a lot of anxiety circulating" in the emotional system of the United States.

If a person likens an emotional system (a family, church, school, business, nation, etc.) to a pressure cooker, oftentimes anxiety builds up within that system.  If there is no release valve, the lid pops off.  During anxious times, with out anxiety lessening mechanisms, pop offs will happen--it just depends upon where that anxiety rests at any given period.  For our nation recently, that anxiety seems to find young, loner, males, and the results aren't pretty.

Further, my teacher continued to say that there is nothing we can do to stop such events.  They are a result of chronic anxiety in the system, and one simply does not git rid of anxiety.  The best one can do is manage it, and here's the most difficult thing to accept according to Bowen Theory: only individuals can manage their own anxiety.  You cannot manage anyone else's anxiety.  It's an impossibility. 

What is quite intriguing about the theory; however, is that it suggests that by regulating one's own anxiety, it has an effect on the rest of the system.  If a leader manages his or her own anxiety and focuses on lowering his or her own reactions, that impacts how everyone else connected to the leader functions.

This is where things get tricky.  I believe it is part of human nature to want to do something when faced with anxiety raising situations.  Whenever we see images on television or on the computer, we tend to ask, "What can I do to make a difference?"  When 9/11 occurred, there was a rush to give blood.  Blood banks were overwhelmed as people donated to help out the victims of the tragedy.  So many people wanted to do something, this seemed like an appropriate response.  But what ended up happening?  200,000 units of blood were discarded because there was an over supply.

Now, I'm not suggesting that giving blood is a bad thing.  I'm a regular donor, but simply reacting and doing something without thinking through the consequences or pushing people to do something to capitalize on reactivity isn't kosher.

Sometimes the best initial response is to do nothing.  Systems have an incredible capacity to heal and take care of themselves.  They do not always need intervention.  Sometimes they need a leader or someone to stand back and allow the system to take care of itself.  Sometimes they need a leader to pause and acknowledge what went on/is going on, and say, "Let's give this some time before we do anything."

As people take time to think and reflect upon occurrences, more and better ideas surface.  Creativity abounds.  Either/or gets replaced with both/and or something completely new and different which is a better solution than the initial options. 

Furthermore, a leader sometimes needs to trust the system to care for itself.  Medically, sometimes it's better to let a body's own capacity to heal and fight off disease run its course than to interject intervention.  It is now known that super bugs have arisen because an overuse of anti-biotics.  Sometimes it's best to do nothing. 

Again, don't misunderstand me.  If there is a blockage of a main artery heading out of the heart, it's time to operate, but one needs the wisdom of discernment to know when an intervention is necessary.

But taking time takes courage.  There are those who scream and yell right after events that "Something needs to be done to stop this or prevent this from happening again."

There is truth to that statement.  Something should be done.  But it is rare that we find anyone with the courage to say that something should be nothing.

There, I said it.  I am sure someone will be more than willing to disagree.

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